MADRID (AP)It was a painful sequence of events for Atletico Madrid.
Yannick Carrasco’s last-gasp penalty kick was saved. Saul Niguez’s header off the rebound hit the crossbar. Reinildo’s shot from the loose ball deflected off Carrasco near the goal line and went over the net.
Just like that, in a matter of mere seconds, Atletico was eliminated in the group stage of the Champions League for only the second time in 10 seasons.
”The penalty kick, the save, the crossbar, the deflection on Carrasco … it all sums up this Champions League for us,” Atletico coach Diego Simeone said after the 2-2 draw against Bayer Leverkusen on Wednesday. ”Nothing was easy.”
Long after the final whistle at the Metropolitano Stadium, Simeone and most of the Atletico players were still on the field, staring in disbelief as some of the fans kept singing and supporting the squad.
”Obviously, it’s a tough blow,” Simeone said. ”We didn’t expect it. We didn’t want it to happen. It wasn’t part of what we had projected. But it is what it is. We have to move on, and you can either see yourself as a victim or as someone strong who will keep digging.”
Atletico still has some work left to finish at least third in the group to secure a Europa League berth. The Spanish club won the second-tier competition the last two times it failed to advance in the Champions League – in 2009-10 and 2017-18.
Atletico has five points in Group B, one more than Leverkusen, which hosts leader Club Brugge in its final group match. Atletico visits second-place Porto, which can still finish first.
The Spanish team opened its Champions League campaign by beating Porto with a late goal by Antoine Griezmann, then lost at Leverkusen and at Club Brugge before being held to a draw against the Belgian champions in Madrid.
Simeone couldn’t fully count on Griezmann earlier in the season because of a contract dispute with Barcelona, and Alvaro Morata and Joao Felix struggled when the team needed them the most. Defensive mistakes also proved costly in the team’s recent Champions League matches.
”We have been eliminated in a group in which we could have advanced,” Simeone said. ”Last season it was hard for us as well.”
Atletico last season advanced in second place in a group with Porto, AC Milan and Liverpool. It got past Manchester United in the round of 16 before falling to Manchester City in the quarterfinals.
The Champions League continues to elude Simeone, who led Atletico to the final in 2014 and 2016 but both times lost to city rival Real Madrid.
”There is no doubt that the Champions League has been tough for me,” he said. ”But I’m stubborn and I’ll keep trying to win it with this club for as long as I can.”
Atletico now will turn its focus back to the Spanish league, where it visits second-to-last-place Cadiz on Saturday. Atletico is in third place, five points behind second-place Barcelona and eight points behind leader Madrid.
”We have to move on,” Simeone said, ”and keep working hard.”
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